Engines. Power Units. Energy Recovery.
Our local yellow dwarf main sequence star (classified as a G2V type star), otherwise known as "The Sun", or "Sol" in some quarters, is the source of all energy in our Solar System. Yet we have been reprocessing alternate energy stores for centuries as we crawled from cave to civilisation. Wood burning, oil and internal combustion, tidal energy... all started with the Sun in some manner. So, finally 2021 will be the year that solar power really makes a difference.
Here in Australia roof-top solar panels are now the single biggest generator of electrical power in many suburban areas. The final quarter this year should see the launch of a pure solar-powered car complete with comfort and 'nice touches', rather than the Heath Robinson items that crawl across the outback in "Solar Challenges" with no air conditioning, internet or surround sound.
So what is Formula One to do?
Bernie, long may his messaging continue, has already restated his desire for Formula One to throw up its hands, own-up to being entertainment, and as such return to screaming V10, V8, or V12 engines that elicit loud complaint from the dead.
The big manufacturers need the "this is good for road cars" link in order to give some mild justification to Board Members around the world for the continued expense of racing. Not to mention the awkward messaging of such excessive destructive consumption to an ever greener audience.
Baby brother Formula-E is growing up rapidly, attracting lots of new friends to his playground games. What if he turns out to have more friends than his F1 big brother? Might sound silly now, but if you'd told folk back in the 1980's that a lowered four wheel drive that could tow a boat was going to become Porsche's best seller, out-stripping fifty years of 911 sales in just a handful of years, well they would have laughed long and hard.
Big Oil, like Big Tobacco before it, is not stupid. Big Oil knows its days are numbered. Yet it has a storage, supply and distribution solution that works flawlessly. Moving from digging liquefied dinosaur out the ground, to huffing and puffing the chemistry to produce hydrogen is not a huge task for these chaps, they already have immense, complex refineries all over the planet so moving to hydrogen production would not be such a big shift for them.
Why bother? Because they can still hold us all to ransom with a product that has to be manufactured, stored, distributed, and cannot be easily sourced from your own garden shed.
Sunlight? Well, even in Wales in February, there is the slightest glimmer of a suggestion of the concept of daylight. Sure, you're not going to be Surfing USA in your baggies, but it is daylight. And where those photons fall there is energy to be had. Pop solar panels on the roof of your garden shed... and it is all yours... for free. No manufacturing, no storage and distribution network. No huge profits for Big City Fat Cats (BCFCs). Just helpful electromagnetic spectrum energy gifted from our G2 star direct to your backyard. Now if that's not paying it forward, what is?
Naturally BCFCs of all fur types and stripes do not like this, not at all. Big Oil, energy companies, your local fun loving tax raising council. Not one of them likes us getting "Free Stuff".
Solar panels are getting to the point where approximately five square metres (about the total skyward facing surface area of a full size sedan) can generate a useful amount of energy. Meanwhile the energy storage density of batteries is increasing at a dramatic rate. Rather like Moores law for semiconductors (processing power doubling every time you blink) has remarkably held for decades, battery technology is currently in a state of exponential improvement. Simply because there is a huge amount of money to be made for those that get it right. A BCFC of a new stripe will emerge from the feral undergrowth once someone (Panasonic and Toyota possibly - watch the news at the end of this year) gets it right and current generation electric cars will look like 19th century steam engines overnight.
So! Does F1 continue to give ear fuss and tummy tickles to the Big Oil Fat Cats, or do they pay passing attention to the collapse of the planet, and the concerns of the public, and go electric, and eventually, solar boosting coupled with kinetic, rather than energy recovery from those naughty exhaust gases?
No wonder that chipper chap Toto is pausing while muttering "...new engine choice is a complex thing..." Rumour has it Toto is more of a dog lover than a cat lover (I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more...") (Max, didn't you see that Halo-device inspired video of the ginger cat in a sandal, which Toto described as a small animal? – Ed) but maybe that is missing a subtle wrinkle.
It is the BCFCs of Big Oil that Toto is not so found of, while the laptop furry variety are just fine. At least, along with his thankful recovery, we can be assured of Romain's decent nature by his delight at hugging first his children, his wife and then his 'feline fan', Petrus, looking suspiciously like a well-maintained Rag-doll slim cat.
It will have a huge impact on how F1 is viewed, how useful it is as a technology platform, and just how endeared and aligned the public feel to F1 as the entire planet adjusts to different energy storage and use models. Stop the BCFCs of Big Oil from scratching a beloved sofa to pieces, or to hell with them, and embrace the free photons, furniture damage be damned?
Hybrids were always a red herring long term. You still need a fuel supply (petrol), and have an internal combustion engine literally doing your dirty work.
Hydrogen still requires a massive manufacturing, storage and distribution setup, which is exactly what Big Oil wants.
Next generation solar panels, coupled with next generation batteries, plus ever improving electric motor design, is a remarkable, excessively clean (heavy metals in the battery and motor not withstanding) solution.
Toto's smart. He would be very well aware of the crossroads being reached on energy and power issues within the transport industry. Echoing around his mind would be Treebeard's wise words; "Now don't be hasty."
The Porsche Taycan, the BMW i3, the Jaguar iPace... all in response to Tesla bringing out electric cars that actually work. Robustly embarrassing the subcompact lumps of junk with a 50-mile range that car makers had been rolling out to keep the Big Oil Fat Cats happy and well fed, while charging the extreme price of a BMW V8 coupe for the privilege.
Humanity is at an existential crossroads for saving the planet, whales, small furry things, and ourselves. It might be that to achieve this little victory that Big Oil Fat Cats - as a species - will be driven to extinction.
Meanwhile Toto, and the F1 gang have the wonderfully tricky problem of trying to keep a clutter of BCFCs happy, including their own boards of Fat Cat Directors, then the teams, Liberty Media, sponsors, and, eventually, finally, and just occasionally, us the "priceless" fan.
Indeed, Toto and the chaps are not going to be hasty with this decision. The next round of engine regulations will be the most defining since Formula One first formed a grid before dropping the start flag.
This fan, your increasingly eccentric scribe, is an Electrical and Electronic Engineer by training. I'm for next generation solar, pumping energy from those G2 star photons into next generation batteries. I can live with a species of BCFC going extinct as the price we all pay. In an increasingly hug the Whale, save the Koala and plant the inner city forest world, how can an entertainment based on liquefied dinosaur be considered anything other than a dinosaur itself from a previous epoch?
The power to divine the future is possibly one that Toto desires right now. Not just to get the right words into Lewis' contract, but to strike the right balance between the whales, the fans, and the Fat Cats.
What a perfect electrical storm of a decision to make! As John Travolta ("Volt" is even in his name, he's been the future for years!) so sagely sang; "It's electrifying!"
Learn more about Max and check out his previous features, here